Justin Shields loads up to swing in a Dairyland Collegiate League game.

The offseason can be a drag for collegiate baseball players. While scrimmages and weightlifting are necessary parts of any player’s development, actual competition against fresh opponents is the best way to stay sharp. That is precisely the opportunity the Dairyland Collegiate League provides. Players from all over may come and compete to hone their skills.

Three teams, the Johnson Creek Mapaches, Lake Mills 94’s, and Lakeside Beachbums all competed through the months of June and July, with the championship series taking place this coming weekend. A fourth team, the Columbia County Bar Brawlers, took a year off but will return next season.

Perhaps more important than baseball is the change of scenery. A summer spent away from home can provide important new worldviews and help develop a young man off the diamond. This is only possible through the help of host families. Families in Waterloo, Marshall, Beaver Dam, Lake Mills, Cambridge, and plenty more open their doors to give these athletes a place to lay their heads. In some cases, they go even further.

“My host has been great,” said Justin Shields, a member of the Johnson Creek Mapaches with a host in Fall River. “It’s comfortable. She’s taken me and my roommates to sightsee and get familiar with the area. She showed us what’s fun here. She’s really done her best to help me out.”

Shields comes to Lake Mills from southern California.

“It was a big culture shock,” Shields said. “There aren’t mountains out here, so I had to get used to that. There’s a lot more standing water, too. But, the people are a lot more friendly out here.”

There are rosters full of athletes just like Shields out playing ball and honing their craft miles and miles from home. None of this would be capable without hosts opening their doors. It’s not just players that stay with host families, either. Take Lake Mills 94’s manager Wayne Franklin for instance. Some diehard Brewers fans may recognize his name from his time with Milwaukee back in the early 2000’s. He’s no stranger to host families as that was the regular form of rooming through the minor leagues.

“I just want it to be a positive experience for the players,” said Franklin, who’s staying with a family in Lake Mills. “But I told my players to let me know if anything negative was happening. Their parents put up so much money for them to be out here, so playing had to be the top priority. I haven’t heard anything negative back from my players.”

For seasoned veterans of host living like Franklin, this seems like a breeze. But plenty of these players are staying in a situation like this for the first time. As a former Brewer, though, Franklin knew the type of people he was sending his players home to and their undying love for sports. He could rest easy, knowing they were in good hands.

“I really like the fans out here,” Franklin said. “The players should understand the fans out here, too. I have faith in this fan base. It’s a huge reason why I came back here to coach.”

The playoffs for the Dairyland Collegiate league started last week.

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